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Identifying an Author's Purpose Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Identifying an Author's Purpose Practice Exercises

LESSON SUMMARY

Writers always have a purpose in mind for their writing. This lesson shows you how to identify the author's purpose in many different types of writing.

On your way to lunch, your friend passes you a note in the hallway. What might be the purpose of the note? Your friend might have written about a funny thing that happened to him last weekend. He might be telling you some details for your upcoming camping trip. Or maybe the note wants to convince you to see that new action film tomorrow night. Whatever the note contains, your friend has some purpose in writing to you.

Every writer has a basic goal in mind as he or she writes. There are three simple ways to classify the author's purpose:

  • to inform
  • to persuade
  • to entertain

The purpose that the writer chooses will determine what kind of style, word choice, and structure he or she will use. If your friend wants to inform you about the upcoming camping trip, he'll probably include lots of specific details. If he's trying to persuade you to see that action film, he will try to build a convincing argument.

And if he's sharing a story, he might use similes or other poetic language to make it interesting.

You can determine the author's purpose by—you guessed it!—watching the clues in word choice, style, tone, point of view, and structure.

Writing to Inform

To inform means "to give information." Informative writing provides facts or instructions. You see this type of writing all the time. A recipe, for example, gives specific instructions for preparing food, and a bus schedule tells you the times and locations of the bus stops. When you read an instruction manual for your new camera, you expect the writer to tell you facts and details about how the camera works.

Most types of writing include facts and ideas, so you'll have to read carefully to identify the author's overall intent. This news article is a good example:

Greenville—On November 2, local resident Andrew Dixon was awarded the Lifetime Donor Award from St. Xavier Children's Hospital. This annual award recognizes community members who have made a long-term commitment to helping the hospital through charity drives or private funding. Dixon raised nearly $3 million for the hospital over the past 11 years by organizing an annual charity walk. "Andrew is one of the most generous, selfless people I have ever met," said Brian Benz, chairman of the hospital's Charity Division.

Most of this article presents facts that can't be argued with. The last sentence, however, gives an opinion: Andrew is generous and selfless. But notice that this isn't the writer's opinion. The statement appears inside quotations, so the author is showing you someone else's opinion. The news story tells you what happened and why, but the writer does not tell you what to think about it.

Readers assume three things about texts written to inform:

  1. Just the facts, please! The writer leaves out his or her personal opinions.
  2. The writer knows what he or she is talking about.
  3. The writing is objective and presents both sides of an issue.
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